Fascinating Facts About Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963) was a gifted poet who on the surface seemed to have it all: ambition, brains, and beauty. But she was beset by a lifelong struggle with depression that led to suicide at the age of thirty.

Because most of her work was published after her untimely death, she wasn’t able to enjoy the fruits of her labors. Yet her place in the American literary canon is well deserved. Here are some facts about Sylvia Plath, some known well, others less so, but all contributing to a fascinating portrait of this beloved poet’s brief life:


She published her first poem at age 9

A week after her eighth birthday, Plath’s father died from complications due to a foot amputation. In the same year, she published her first poem in the Boston Herald’s children’s section. Over the course of the next few years, she continued to publish multiple poems in regional magazines and newspapers. Her first published poem was called “Poem” (Boston Herald, 1941)

“Hear the crickets chirping
In the dewy grass.
Bright little fireflies
Twinkle as they pass.”


She first pursued studio art

When Sylvia Plath initially enrolled at Smith College, her first choice of major was studio art, but after discovering her brilliance in writing, her professors encouraged her to major in English instead. The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery mounted a retrospective of her work in 2017.

Triple-Face Portrait by Sylvia Plath, c. 1950-1951
Courtesy The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana,
© Estate of Sylvia Plath


She went missing while a student at Smith

In 1950, Plath began attending Smith College and at first, seemed to flourish. She edited The Smith Review, and during the summer after her third year of college was awarded a coveted position as guest editor at Mademoiselle magazine, spending a month in New York City. The experience wasn’t what she had hoped, and it began a downward spiral. Plath made her first suicide attempt in 1953 by crawling under her house and taking her mother’s sleeping pills.

She survived this first suicide attempt after lying unfound in a crawl space for three days, later writing that she “blissfully succumbed to the whirling blackness that I honestly believed was eternal oblivion.” The incident was reported in local papers, reporting her disappearance and recovery:

newspaper clipping about Sylvia Plath's disappearance


She was a guest editor for Mademoiselle

In August of 1952, Sylvia Plath won a fiction writing contest held by Mademoiselle, the New York City based women’s magazine, earning her the position as guest editor in June 1953. Her experiences during this time in NYC later became an episode in her novel The Bell Jar (1963).


She married Ted Hughes less than four months after meeting him

Plath first met poet Ted Hughes on February 25, 1956, at a party in Cambridge, England. She was there on a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship. The couple married on June 16, 1956, and honeymooned in Benidorm, Spain.

The following year, Plath and Hughes moved to the Massachusetts, where she taught at her alma mater, Smith College. It was a challenge for her to find the time and energy to write when she was teaching. By the end of 1959 after another move and extensive travel, the couple moved back to London.


She was a secret collage artist

Although often associated with a darker, perhaps more dramatic spirit, Sylvia Plath also had a wry sense of humor, evidenced in her collages. She would create visual art out of anything she could find, including the American magazines her mother mailed to her in England.


Collage by Sylvia Plath
Mortimer Rare Book Collection, Smith College,
Northampton, Massachusetts, © Estate of Sylvia Plath


The Bell Jar was first published under a pseudonym

The Bell Jar was published in England just prior her suicide in 1963 under a pseudonym, Victoria Lucas. It was published in the U.S. under her real name in 1971. Her only novel, it is semi-autobiographical, portraying the author’s struggles with mental illness.


She committed suicide in the same house W. B. Yeats had once lived

From 1962 to 1963, Plath and her two children lived in the same flat that the Irish poet W. B. Yeats had once occupied; she considered this a good omen for her own writing. As is well known, she committed suicide by gassing herself in her kitchen while her children slept soundly in a room nearby.


Her suicide note consisted of four words

It may be surprising given how extensively and evocatively Plath wrote of death and suicide in her poetry, that she left a note of only four words before taking her own life. Her suicide note said simply “Please call Dr. Horder” — along with this doctor’s phone number. The debate has stirred ever since — was her suicide intentional, or a cry for help? Could this even be considered a suicide note at all?

Syvia Plath

See also: Sylvia Plath’s Suicide Note: Death Knell, or Cry for Help?


Most of her poetry was published posthumously

The Colossus was published in 1960, while she was still alive The poetry in this collection was intense, personal, and delicately crafted.

Though she had been separated from him at the time of her death, Ted Hughes inherited Plath’s literary estate. Much of Plath’s work was unpublished while she was alive, and Hughes decided to publish some of the collections she left behind.

In 1965 Hughes  released Ariel, a collection of poems Plath wrote expressing her battle with the darkness of depression, and of their relationship. Throughout the 1970s Hughes continued to release Plath’s poems, but was met with criticism over his selections and decisions.


The suicide of Hughes’ mistress mirrored Plath’s

Ted Hughes left Sylvia Plath for Assia Wevill in 1962. In time, their relationship became fraught and troubled. In a tragic twist of fate, the stresses of scrutiny over her continued relationship with Hughes, the disapproval of his family, and his continued infidelity took their toll on Assia. She dragged a bed into the kitchen of her Clapham flat, dissolved sleeping tablets in a glass of water and gave the drink to her daughter (generally believed to be Hughes’ child) before finishing the rest herself. Mirroring Plath’s suicide method, she then turned on the gas stove and got into bed with her daughter; both died.


The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

You might also enjoy: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

image_print

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to The Literary Ladies Guide weekly newsletter

Celebrating women’s voices
with inspiration for readers and writers

  • Find your next great read
  • Get writing advice from authors you love
  • Enjoy fascinating facts and quotes
  • Discover women’s literary history

... and lots more (look for a bonus in your welcome letter!)
Email address
Secure and Spam free...